By Lenora Billings-Harris

As educators we often realize our role with students is that of a mentor, but sometimes we forget to mentor and be mentored by colleagues in order to help with our own growth.


Mentoring is a developmental sharing, caring, and helping relationship where an experienced educator (mentor) invests time with an emerging educator

(mentee or protégé) in order to enhance the growth, knowledge and skills of the emerging teacher. The mentor provides guidance and enlightened advice regarding the unwritten rules of success. Mentors are usually, but not required to be, employees of the organization. Many people also have mentors within the teaching profession who are not employees within their school. The use of the term ‘experienced educator’ in this case does not imply that mentoring only happens with senior level educators and administrators. It occurs at all levels. A mentor relationship might last years, or, if it is part of a formal program, it may last six months to a year.


A coach is one who teaches, directs, and encourages another, usually with the focus on exploring an opportunity or alleviating a problem. Today, many professionals utilize the services of outside coaches in order to help them improve their skills through better understanding of their own strengths and areas needing development. The length of this type of relationship is usually time specific, especially if it was formed to address a problem.


Sponsors are individuals who create or support opportunities of advancement and growth for emerging educators. The emerging educator may not know she has a sponsor. These are often people who observe from a distance and open doors of opportunity just at the right time.

One of the best ways for teachers to grow professionally is to identify a formal mentor.  A mentor’s years of experience can help a new teacher to create a classroom environment that motivates students.  The mentor can offer constructive insights regarding challenges with curriculum design.  There may be times when advice is needed regarding how to motivate a particular student.  A new teacher can receive a mentor’s guidance about how to approach a student who needs academic support.  A mentor can also demonstrate certain classroom instruction techniques that are not taught by a college or university.